Posts Tagged ‘william shakespeare’

#CBR4 Cannonball 29: The Sandman, Volume 3: Dream Country by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman, Vol. 3: Dream CountryThe Sandman, Vol. 3: Dream Country by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Holy cow, I had no idea just how good this series would be. Dream Country doesn’t even do all that much to move the plot forward, but it’s so compelling that it’s still nothing but a pleasure to read.

There are four unrelated stories told in this volume. The first is “Calliope,” about Richard Madoc, a writer who captures the Muse (like, I mean, the Muse, Calliope) and holds her captive in order to write brilliant things. She calls out to the Grey Ladies (the Fates) for help, and they tell her to ask Dream (known to her as Morpheus). We then see the terrible price of compromising integrity in the pursuit of success.

“A Dream of a Thousand Cats” tells the story of the world before recollection, when cats ruled the earth and humans were merely their pets. This all changed when, one day, a human started to dream of ruling the earth himself. This dream spread until a thousand people dreamed it, and it then became reality. A Siamese cat now roams the earth, telling her story and urging other cats to believe and dream, that they might rule the earth once more.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was a really fun one. It shows the first-ever performance of Shakespeare’s famous play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was implied earlier in the series that Shakespeare struck a bargain with Dream in order to become a famous writer. This performance of Shakespeare’s play is put on for the fantastical characters in his play, many of which are real, and friends of Dream’s. It’s a nice bit of meta.

midsummer night's dream

Oberon, Titania, & co. arrive to watch the debut performance of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream

“Facade” is about Urania “Rainie” Blackwell, who is transformed into a half-goddess, half-human by coming into contact with the Orb of Ra. She’s lonely and desperate, unable to interact with humankind because of her grotesque, half-human appearance, and she can’t even kill herself because she’s part goddess. Death (Dream’s younger sister) happens upon Rainie as she returns from taking a woman in the building who fell off a stepladder. She can’t take Rainie, but she gives her some helpful advice that allows her to find release from her suffering.

The stories don’t appear to be linked in any way, but they help you to get a bit of a feel for some of the main characters in the story. It doesn’t do so by direct revelation, but rather by showing you the effects that they have on others, which shows the reach of their influence and presence.

Dream Country is a heady read, and could stand alone as its own work.

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#CBR4 Cannonball 6: Othello by William Shakespeare

OthelloOthello by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A word to the wise: reading on the Kindle is great: you can take your book with you on the go and read without having to physically hold your book open.

But if you’re going to read Othello on Kindle, do your very best not to read the last act in public, and especially not while doing cardio at the gym. Reading it in public will rob you of the comfort of tears, and reading it on the elliptical machine will turn your workout into an ugly spectacle of snot, sweat, tears, and gasping.

I saw Othello before I ever read it. I studied abroad in England in the last semester of my senior year, and part of the program was to take weekly excursions all over England. One week, we visited Stratford-upon-Avon, and had the privilege of watching the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Othello.

I remember being profoundly moved by the last act, and I experienced that same emotion today on the elliptical machine at 24-Hour Fitness.

Othello is a Moor. He’s the 16th century equivalent of a Huxtable: he’s black, but respected. He’s the general of an army, and the play opens with his elopement with Desdemona, the daughter of a Venetian nobleman. Roderigo, another wealthy nobleman, is sulky because he wanted Desdemona for himself. This presents a golden opportunity for Iago, Othello’s right-hand man, who pretends to be loyal to Othello, but is actually eaten up with envy of the Moor. Iago and Roderigo conspire to deceive Othello and bring him to ruin.

othello and iago

Othello (Laurence Fishburne) and Iago (Kenneth Branagh) in the 1995 film version,

If you’ve ever been tempted to do something underhanded because you were jealous of someone else, you can understand Othello. But it’s also a cautionary tale, showing the dire consequences of jealousy. Iago himself ironically warns Othello: “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;/It is the green-ey’d monster which doth mock/The meat it feeds on…” (III.iii.165-167)

(Basically, he’s saying, “Don’t be jelly, cuz it’ll eat you up.”)

o and i

Hugo Goulding (Josh Hartnett) and Odin James (Mekhi Phifer) in O, the crappy 2001 bastardization of the play.

We see the poisoned fruit that jealousy bears: Iago’s jealousy leads him to set the plot against Othello in motion. Roderigo’s jealousy leads him to get involved, which (SPOILER ALERT!!) eadslay otay ishay untimelyyay eathday. Othello’s jealousy, once sparked by Iago’s insinuations, leads him to destroy everything he has, including that which he loved most in life.

It’s Shakespearean tragedy at its best. The audience is helplessly pulled into the action unfolding before them, watching as Othello’s passionate love for Desdemona, nudged off-balance by Iago’s machinations, slowly but inexorably destroys everything in its path — and all in language that will make your soul shudder at its terrible beauty.

If you ever get a chance, I highly recommend that you try to see a staged production. Bring the Kleenex. Leave the elliptical machine.

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